The transportation sector is the largest source of emissions in the U.S. and the second biggest source of GHGs globally. Reducing transportation emissions is an essential part of keeping temperatures below critical thresholds (1.5 – 2 C). The key to reducing emissions in this sector is scaling up zero-carbon transportation
Driven by e-commerce and business travel the transportation sector has passed the energy sector as the largest source of American emissions. This sector is responsible for 27 percent of emissions in the U.S. and 23 percent globally.
“Fighting dangerous climate change requires an all-encompassing approach that curbs every important source of carbon pollution, and that means from cars and trucks, power plants and airplanes, as well as other climate pollutants like methane and HFCs,” David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “With every month this year breaking global heat records, it’s clear we must act on climate in every way possible, and now.”
Better aerodynamics and increased fuel efficiency can reduce emissions in the transportation sector. The Canadian province of British Columbia as well as the U.S. states of California and Oregon have all adopted incentive programs for low carbon transportation fuels. While fuel standards and market-based incentives like carbon pricing and carbon offsets can help reduce GHGs, there are very real limits to emissions reductions if we continue to rely on fossil fuel-based technologies. We need to see decarbonization of the transportation sector and given current technologies, this will depend largely on electrification. However, it is important to bear in mind that the success of this approach will depend on how the electricity being used is generated. If it is derived from fossil fuels we will be no further ahead.
Decarbonization through electrification is the pathway forward, but to quickly grow at the required scale we will need to see governments play a key role. This includes clean energy grids, incentives for zero-emission transportation, and investments in research and development of new technologies.